Being different didn't matter to me like it does to kids today.
|The Early Years
by Marilyn Mackenzie
People today have trouble imagining me as a timid child, but I truly was. My very first memory is of being three years old and clinging to my mother’s skirt and driving her crazy as she tried to host a Stanley home party.
Going to school didn't make me less shy. Although I was able to make and keep friends, it took me pretty long to do so. I wasn't able to speak up in class, nor was I ever able to admit a mistake.
One winter day in kindergarten, I sat all day in my chair because I forgot to take off my leggings. In first grade, I hid my paper under a stack of empty sheets because I had written my first name twice instead of writing my first and last name. I wouldn't take any papers home to my parents that weren't A’s. I just left them accumulate in my desk. My parents believed me to be a child genius until they went to an open house and looked in my desk.
Perhaps I was shy, though, mostly around adults. Around my parents and their friends, I was quiet and shy and the perfect little angel. But my teachers couldn't quite understand my parents’ concern about how I got along with the other children. What they didn't know was that in kindergarten I used to take a different seat every day, always beside my boyfriend of the day. Early in the year, before our carpool was organized, my friends and I drove to kindergarten in a taxicab. I received my first kiss in the back seat of that taxicab.
Our grade school only went up to the fifth grade, and most of the fifth graders were patrols. Students all ate their lunches in the classrooms, and patrols were assigned a classroom to watch so the teachers could eat in the teacher’s lounge in peace. I was the patrol for room 13, a second grade room. The girls in that classroom were about an inch taller than me, and it seemed that the boys were twice as tall. After about three incidents where the second graders stood up to me and shouted, “you can't make me!” I was reassigned to a more important post. I had to sit at the principal’s desk and greet people and answer the phone while she was out to lunch. Grown-ups were so much easier to handle.
I realize now what great teachers and administrators we had back then. Even though our classrooms were huge - in 6th grade, we had 3 classes of 50 each! - very few kids were ever held back. It wasn't because kids were being passed when they shouldn't have been. Teachers were able to give special attention to kids who needed it back then. It may have helped that we still had respect for teachers, and when we were working you could hear a pin drop. I've visited some classrooms today and have been amazed at how much the teachers have to concentrate on getting everyone quieted and on discipline.
Our teachers were able to give special attention without us realizing that they were doing so. My first grade teacher and I had a secret shared just between the two of us. Her first name was the same as my middle name – Ruth.
Our second grade teacher made us sing all the time. It wasn't until I was an adult and studying the various ways that children learn that I realized that there were some in our classroom who just couldn't learn in the “normal” ways. Because of that, we all learned songs about addition and subtraction and about historical characters. Some, our teacher made up on her own.
The only time we were singled out was in reading. Each of our grades had three reading levels. Even so, we didn't really know that these were different levels of achievement. One group was called the purple group, another the green group and the third was the orange group. Each group read from the same reader, and each finished at the same time as the next. What we didn't realize was that the least advanced group just finished the book. The middle group was able to discuss the book in a little more detail, and the advanced group was taken to the library for an extra session there.
When I entered college, I was given a speech test and told that I had a speech problem. How insulted I was, and went promptly back to the dorm to call my mother. She confirmed that I, indeed, had a speech problem as a child, but she said it was not evident to her anymore. When I asked her why I never knew of this problem, she told me she assumed that I knew. She reminded me that I had spent two sessions each week with a speech specialist. I surely didn't remember that. Then it came to me. I did have some wonderful sessions with a nice woman (who had horrible bad breath, I remember) reading aloud books that I chose. I had no idea I was in speech classes.
Although I was shy, although I started wearing glasses at age 10, although I started playing the violin and studying French in 2nd grade, and even though I had a speech problem, I never really thought I was any different than any other child in elementary school.
It wasn't until I reached junior high, that I realized that taking advanced French classes and playing the violin made me a bit different than other girls my age. But as shy as I still was, my parents and teachers had instilled a confidence in my abilities. Being different didn't matter to me like it does to kids today. Besides, most of my friends were different as well. In fact, we became known as the “too by toos” because some of us were too smart, some too dumb, some too fat, some too skinny. We were a group of misfits joined together because of our misfit status. The shenanigans of the “too by toos” is another story for another day.